Cingular Stages Concerts to Go

Some time later this year, Cingular Wireless users will be able to use their fancy new broadband network-enabled phones to see Pussycat Dolls lead singer Nicole Scherzinger show off her bump-and-grind dance skills while warbling the group’s hit “Don’t Cha.”

Part of a soon-to-be launched on-demand Cingular Video service, “Cingular Sounds Live” puts the mobile carrier into the role of concert promoter. Cingular will organize and film monthly concerts at venues around the country, with the resulting video clips beamed exclusively to mobile customers via its fledgling broadband Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service network.

Cingular’s UMTS network supports download speeds between 400 Kilobits per second and 700 Kbps, and is now up and running in 16 U.S. markets, including Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Las Vegas; San Diego; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.

It plans to extend that footprint to 100 markets by the end of this year.

When the Cingular Video service debuts on the UMTS network later this year, it will join a growing list of broadband multimedia offerings that already includes Verizon Wireless’ V Cast video and game service and Sprint Nextel Corp.’s Sprint TV and On Demand video services.

Although Cingular Video has yet to debut, the carrier is already at work collecting the concert video. It kicked off the concert series this month with a performance featuring Daddy Yankee and The Pussycat Dolls at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.

But stepping into the role of content producer is not without its challenges, particularly since Cingular plans to stage the shows on the fly, tapping the latest hit makers and arranging the shows only a couple of weeks in advance.

Latest hits are in fact the focus. The concerts are an outgrowth of Cingular’s online ringtone-download store, which spotlights artists with current hits. The Pussycat Dolls and Daddy Yankee were among the featured artists this month, so “the concept here is to bring more compelling content to those folks that are already buying these artists,” executive director of marketing David Garver said. “So it’s really just extending our existing programs to take it into a variety of mobile genres.”

Monthly concerts will be staged at venues throughout the nation, with locations dependent on where the featured artists are touring or situated at the time.

“The difficult part of this whole program is because you are selling the hits, your timelines are very short,” Garver said. “We want to take the content that is reaching its peak, and add to it. So we are extending these things out about two to three weeks in advance. We’re working on our March concert right now.”

Once the artists are selected, Cingular works with them to arrange a concert. That means finding an open date on their schedule, finding a concert venue wherever they are and setting up the event. Cingular then sends out promotions to its customers in the city where the concert will be staged. It also works with the artists’ record label, fan Web sites and local radio stations to promote the event.

Despite that relatively short turnaround, Garver said the challenge is not in setting up the concert itself. After all, the primarily goal is to create video for the Cingular content service rather than drawing enough tickets sales to make the event a success.

“You don’t need a large venue,” Garver said. “The stages are all designed to be shot up close, and so you don’t have a lot of space on the stage. And therefore your audience funnels into the center.”

The video is shot and produced by Live Nation, a production company that spun off from radio station juggernaut Clear Channel. Footage from the concert is piped to a Live Nation mobile vehicle, where producers chop up the performance into individual song segments.

Representatives of Live Nation declined to provide information about that process for this article. But Garver said each concert will produce about five song clips per artist, and possibly some behind-the-scenes footage.

“We filmed an extensive amount of stuff behind the stage with the artist, so it gives you a little closer feel to what the actual performance is all about,” he said.

The process to create the video clips and then upload them to Cingular’s content servers will take a couple of days, but that delay is just fine for Cingular, Garver said.

“We’re comfortable with that,” he said. “It’s the footage that is the compelling part, not the fact that it happens to be live at any particular moment in time.”

Pricing for Cingular Video has not been set as yet, but the Cingular Sounds Live content will be part of the basic service and will not be offered for an extra charge.